This experience was priceless. I look back at it as a defining moment in my writing life.
— Amy Clay, Into the Fire attendee
Since 1974, The Sun has published the kind of brave, revealing writing that lives up to the magazine’s motto: “What is to give light must endure burning.” We invite you to join Sun readers, authors, and staff for a weekend retreat celebrating the written word. The authors will lead workshops geared to bring forth the best in your own essays, short stories, and poems. A Readers Write session will help get your pen moving. There will be opportunities to speak with editor and founder Sy Safransky, and readings by Sy and the workshop leaders.
You don’t have to think of yourself as a writer to attend, because the best part of a Sun gathering is getting to meet people who appreciate the magazine’s compassionate, unflinching view of the world as much as you do. We hope you’ll join us.
Authors Scheduled to Appear
Krista Bremer is the associate publisher of The Sun and the author of the memoir My Accidental Jihad: A Love Story, which began as a Pushcart Prize–winning essay in The Sun. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The London Times, and O: The Oprah Magazine and been translated and reprinted in Turkey, Indonesia, and Iran. (kristabremer.com)
Doug Crandell is the author of the novel The Flawless Skin of Ugly People and six other books. He’s won fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, and the Goldfarb Foundation for Nonfiction. His work was awarded a Pushcart Prize in 2017. He lives in Atlanta and works for the Institute on Human Development and Disability at the University of Georgia. (dougcrandell.com)
Jaquira Díaz is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes and an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, as well as fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and the MacDowell Colony. Her writing has been featured in TheBest American Essays, Rolling Stone, and The Guardian. She lives in Gambier, Ohio, and teaches writing at Kenyon College. (jaquiradiaz.com)
Alison Luterman is the author of the poetry collections The Largest Possible Life, See How We Almost Fly, and Desire Zoo. Her e-book of personal essays is titled Feral City. She lives in Oakland, California. (alisonluterman.net)
Heather Sellerstaught creative writing for nearly twenty years at Hope College in Michigan. In 2013 she joined the faculty at the University of South Florida in Tampa. She is the author of three books on the craft of writing and the memoir You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know.
How To Write Badly (And A Lot) Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry
The best writers know that to write on a regular basis means to write badly most of the time. We will look at strategies for silencing the inner critic and increasing our tolerance for imperfect work. We’ll also practice exercises for writing consistently, playfully, and with abandon, so that our best writing can rise to the surface.
The Art Of Betrayal Nonfiction
“A writer is always selling somebody out,” Joan Didion said. How can we write honestly about our experiences without hurting the people we love? What stories are ours to tell, and which belong to others? We’ll explore these thorny issues through discussion and writing exercises geared to help us discover brave and compassionate ways to tell our stories.
Writing With Self-Awareness Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry
Who we are determines how we see the world. We’ll explore the ways class, race, religion, gender, and other issues affect our worldview and our writing. Left unexamined, inevitable biases can undermine our writing; addressed mindfully, they can strengthen our work. Through discussion and writing exercises we will investigate potentially divisive issues bravely, honestly, and effectively.
Purposeful Journaling Nonfiction, Fiction
Most writers keep some sort of journal, but simply recording our thoughts and experiences can sometimes lead to self-absorbed writing. John Steinbeck said, “A great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last.” We will focus on using our journals to move from self-centered perspectives to communal ones. Doug will share his own journaling process as it relates to his memoir “Winter Wheat.”
Writing About Illness, Addiction, And Disability Nonfiction, Fiction
There are 50 million people in the U.S. with disabilities and mental illnesses, and an estimated 21.5 million with a substance-use disorder. Trite depictions of these problems can bog down our writing. Doug will discuss how he avoided clichés and stereotypes in his essays “Activities of Daily Living” [November 2016], “Grandpa’s Vessel” [August 2010], and “Curvature” [June 2009].
Your Family, My Family, The Human Family Nonfiction
How do we write honestly about our families, balancing the negative with the positive? We will explore how to depict our family members as multidimensional people: flawed but capable of change, and complex and vulnerable on the page. Doug will share tips that have kept his own family from disowning him.
What Is Plot? Nonfiction, Fiction
How do you decide what happens in a story? How do you shape a memoir? We will examine how characters influence what happens in a work of fiction, and how events in a memoir are organized. Jaquira will guide us through a writing exercise designed to generate either a plot for a short story or a structure for a personal essay.
The Personal Is Political Nonfiction, Fiction
Personal stories and essays can often be political, especially those that come from marginalized or silenced writers. We will examine the challenges of writing about poverty, race, mental illness, sexuality, and other experiences, whether our own or someone else’s. Jaquira will discuss how to avoid cultural appropriation and write about marginalized communities in a meaningful way.
From The Headlines: Transforming The News Into Narratives Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry
In the age of the twenty-four-hour news cycle, we are often inundated with sensationalized stories, but these stories can also lead us to topics that are important and powerful. We will discuss techniques for incorporating the news into our writing. Jaquira will show how a news report inspired her personal essay “Baby Lollipops.”
The Music Of Writing Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry
The first poems were sung, and many linguists believe the first human speech was tonal and melodic. We’ll pay attention to the inherent musicality of words and the effect of repetition and variation in poetry and prose, and then we’ll write with those examples in mind.
The Body, The Body, The Body Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry
Love it, struggle with it, revere it, or judge it, we cannot escape this mortal flesh. We will write about issues related to our bodies: sexuality, sickness, aging, insecurities, and more. Alison will use poems as prompts, but we are free to write either poetry or prose.
The Times They Are A-Changin’ Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry
Recent events have left many of us at a loss for words. There is much to mourn and much work that needs to be done. We’ll turn our attention to this beautiful, broken world and look at how poets have addressed climate change and social injustice in the past and present. We’ll write our own responses to what weighs heaviest on our hearts.
The Art Of Reflection Nonfiction
We’re told “Show, don’t tell,” but good writing frequently employs telling — the reflective writer tells us what an experience means. So what is the difference between telling something well and telling it poorly? We will practice showing (via scene) and telling (using reflection) while avoiding over-explanation. We’ll also examine examples of reflection in memoir and leave with techniques for practicing the art of reflection.
Breaking Through Writer’s Block Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry
“Endings are elusive, middles are nowhere to be found, but worst of all is to begin, to begin, to begin,” writes Donald Barthelme. Do you have occasional or regular bouts of writer’s block? Procrastination issues? A hard time finishing? We will talk about the psychology behind the block (it might not be what you think) and learn some simple methods for breaking through and developing a healthy writing practice.
How To Write About What Scares You (And Not Cause People To Freak Out) Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry
Many of us are called to share the stories that matter most to us, but sometimes this material is potentially overwhelming. How do we write about dark, complex, or traumatic events without pushing readers away? We will learn four techniques for handling intense subjects, from fantastic joy to passionate suffering. We can write boldly and keep the reader with us.
The retreat runs Friday, May 18, through Sunday, May 20.
Friday: Check-in begins in the afternoon. Dinner is followed by the Opening Session and a reading featuring Sun authors.
Saturday: Workshops begin after breakfast and run until 5:45 PM with a break for lunch. After dinner, there is a reading by Sy in the auditorium, followed by a reception and book signing.
Sunday: Final workshops begin after breakfast and are followed by the Closing Session. We depart at 12:15 PM.
Individual meetings with Sy Safransky will run throughout the workshop sessions on Saturday and Sunday.
Registered attendees will receive a detailed schedule via e-mail.
The retreat did what all good writing teachers will do — it made me want to write more.
— Robert McGee, Into the Fire attendee
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, Wildacres Retreat is a nonprofit conference center dedicated to “the betterment of human relations and interfaith dialogue.” Situated on 1,600 acres of lush woodland near the Blue Ridge Parkway, Wildacres offers hiking trails, mountain views, and delicious, plentiful meals served family style. Its facilities are modern yet rustic, providing a cozy setting for writing. Each guest room has a private bathroom and accommodates two people. To maintain a true retreat environment, there are no televisions, telephones, or alarm clocks in the rooms. For more information visit the Wildacres website: wildacres.org.
For a map and driving directions, click here. Be sure to bring a printed map with you. (GPS doesn’t always work in the immediate vicinity of the retreat.)
The closest airports to Wildacres are Asheville (AVL), Greensboro (GSO), and Charlotte (CLT). Please plan to rent a car or sign up for ride-share. (A link will be provided in your confirmation e-mail.) The Sun is not coordinating van service for this event.
Registration and Cost
The all-inclusive cost for the weekend is $425, which includes five meals and shared lodging in a double room with a private bath.
The retreat is now full. If you would like to place your name on the waiting list, please complete this form. We’ll contact you if a space opens up.
Cancellations and Refunds
For you to receive a full refund, minus a $35 processing fee, your cancellation must be received by 5 PM EST on Friday, May 11. To cancel, e-mail The Sun’s office manager, Holly McKinney, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (919) 942-5282. Our office hours are 9–5 EST, M–F.
If you cancel after 5 PM EST on May 11 and we cannot fill your spot, you’ll receive a partial refund of $225.
The Sun is offering four full scholarships to the event, which cover tuition, lodging, and food for the weekend. Each recipient will also receive a $300 stipend to cover the cost of travel, childcare, or other retreat-related expenses. The application deadline has passed.
What to Bring
A notebook or journal in which to write and your favorite pen or pencil. (Laptops or tablets are welcome as long as you silence your device. Power outlets may be limited in the workshop rooms, so bring a paper journal as a backup.)
Your bio written in the form of a contributor’s note — thirty words maximum, including your name. See The Sun’s inside front cover for examples. We’re all contributors for the weekend, and we’ll read our notes aloud as introductions at the Opening Session on Friday night.
To help you get started, here’s what we ask Sun contributors to consider as they write their notes:
In addition to the usual information — where you live, your occupation, any previous publications — tell us something unique about you. What are your hobbies, pet projects, bad habits? What are you most proud of, or most embarrassed by? Is there something special about where you live, or with whom you live? Think of one or two things about yourself that are not true of anyone else you know, and tell us what they are.
Please note: The thirty-word limit is strict.
Wildacres recommends that you bring: an alarm clock, ear plugs, and casual clothes, including a sweater, jacket, and good walking shoes. For more information, see http://wildacres.org/resources/faq.html.
I have long been seeking “my” people, and I think I found them this weekend: openhearted, smart, funny, loving.